It was an eventful week for former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell — with a jury finding him guilty of murder, his request for life in prison without parole, and a Court of Common Pleas judge sentencing him to three consecutive life terms behind bars.
The announcements followed in succession like dominoes; a guilty verdict on Monday, an offer by the defendant to waive all appellate rights in exchange for life without the possibility of parole on Tuesday and sentencing on Wednesday by Judge Jeffrey Minehart.
District Attorney Seth Williams, who spoke with reporters following Gosnell’s sentencing, characterized Gosnell as a monster and a murderer.
“I have seen a lot of senseless and cruel acts as the District Attorney of Philadelphia, but this case is arguably the most gruesome,” said Williams. “I will not mince words, Kermit Gosnell is a monster. Any doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster. He knowingly and systematically mistreated female patients for years, which ultimately resulted in the tragic death of Karnamaya Mongar.”
Gosnell, 72, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the deaths of three babies, known as Baby A, C and D, who were born alive but were killed when their spinal cords were severed with a pair of scissors, Williams said. Gosnell also received an additional two and a half to five consecutive years for manslaughter charges relating to the death of Karnamaya Mongar. Gosnell was also sentenced to concurrent sentences for the remaining charges against him. The jury of seven women and five men convicted Gosnell of first degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, performing abortions at 24 or more weeks, and related charges.
“This was a groundbreaking criminal prosecution, where this office, the prosecutors and most importantly the 12 jurors found these heinous acts to be willful, intentional, deliberate, premeditated murders,” Williams said. “This doctor’s illegal purposeful actions against the smallest and most vulnerable human beings born alive were properly called murder by our citizens, and we have acted to seal and preserve those verdicts for all time. The defendant was also found guilty of dozens of other charges which demonstrated his pattern of endangering the lives of his patients, mostly poor women.”
But Williams said Gosnell didn’t start his medical career as a murderer or an alleged illegal prescription drug dealer. Gosnell was making $1.8 million a year performing abortions. Gosnell graduated from Central High School in 1959 and went on to Dickinson College and from there to the Thomas Jefferson Medical School where he graduated in 1966. After that he practiced medicine in Philadelphia’s poor communities.
“As one of the jurors noted, at some point after his graduation from Central High School, after attending and graduating from medical school – he’s a highly intelligent person who really at some point was doing good,” Williams said. “But at another point he started compartmentalizing the different things he was doing and separating himself from reality and managed to step away from his Hippocratic Oath.”
During the late 1960’s and 1970’s he became a proponent of abortion rights. It was during that time when an incident occurred that was perhaps a foreshadowing of what he would eventually become. According to the grand jury investigation, Randy Hutchins, the only licensed medical practitioner on Gosnell’s staff, testified before the grand jury that Gosnell told him about what came to be known as the Mother’s Day Massacre. The grand jury’s report references a Philadelphia Inquirer story dated February 25, 2010, in which Gosnell allegedly offered to perform abortions on 15 poor women who were bused into Philadelphia from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972.
The patients were all in their second trimester of pregnancy. The grand jury’s report states that Gosnell didn’t inform the women that he was going to use an experimental medical device on them called a super coil. The device was developed by an alleged underground abortionist named Harvey Karman. The super coil had never been tested and Hutchins described it as plastic razors in the shape of a sphere. The razors were coated with a gel to keep them closed and inserted into the mother’s womb. Gradually, after several hours, the gel would melt under body temperature, the razors would spring open and cut the fetus, whose remains would be expelled. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer story, Karman tested the device on hundreds of Bangladeshi women who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. The victims suffered numerous complications.
“Nonetheless, Karman brought his ‘super coil’ to Philadelphia where he found an ally in Gosnell,” the report stated. Quoting the Philadelphia Inquirer article, the grand jury investigation reported that the 15 women suffered serious medical complications. Karman was prosecuted and convicted of practicing medicine without a license. The conviction was later overturned in 1974 when a judge ruled that the late Arlen Specter, who was district attorney at the time, failed to show which women Karman had treated. Gosnell was never prosecuted.
“According to the report Gosnell told Hutchins that he left Pennsylvania for an extended period after the super coil incident, first going to the Bahamas and then New York. Gosnell’s reasoning was that if the State Board of Medicine hadn’t brought any charges against him, he could leave for a while and return with his medical license intact; which was in fact what happened.
The case against Gosnell began as a drug investigation into illegal oxycontin prescriptions, according to Jimmy Wood of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Division. Following an extensive investigation by cooperating state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, on February 18, 2010, a raid took place on Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society, in West Philadelphia. Personnel from the DA’s Office and the FBI uncovered the horrors inside. Law enforcement officers happened upon the medical abuses in the course of investigating tips that the doctor had been illegally selling thousands of prescriptions for oxycontin and other narcotics to “patients” that he never examined. The raid revealed that bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was dusty, broken, and blood-stained. The doctor himself was seldom present. In his absence, untrained and unsupervised workers, (one of them a teenage girl) routinely injected dangerous sedatives into women undergoing illegal late-term abortions.
“When the verdict came in, I got very emotional,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore. “As a woman and a mother, I found the squalor and suffering of the patients beyond belief – beyond belief that it could happen in Philadelphia. I just thank God that we were able to do something about it and that Gosnell will have to pay for what he did.”